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Category: miscellany (page 1 of 4)

Feeding the Soul (But Not the Bears) In Idaho

How was the rest of that Idaho trip? Why, it was fantastic, thanks for asking. This will no doubt disappoint some of you, but the weather warmed up after my last post so I didn’t wear waders again. Sorry, folks.

I did, however, learn how to drive a jet ski. I only got up to 32 mph my first time out, but after a few runs I was feeling braver and got up to 48 mph. I learned that it’s much less terrifying in the driver’s seat than it is to be in the back and feeling like I’m aboard a bucking bronco – so, from now on, I’ll be steering. (A good parallel for everything currently going on in my life, right?)

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Anybody lose a dock?

I also learned to paddleboard and I really enjoy it. As a matter of fact, I think I could get hooked on it – I think I’m going to become a regular paddleboarder.

We paddled down the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. It’s mostly shallow and slow-moving, which means you can stand on the board and see straight down to the bottom of the river, watch the fish and tadpoles swim by. And the paddling itself is a kind of zen exercise, a continuous rhythm of long stroke, long stroke, switch sides, long stroke, long stroke, switch sides… It’s like meditation, except instead of focusing on your breath, you’re focusing on the pull of the paddle through the water.

Not that it was all smooth, er, paddling. I got off to a rough start our first time out. I somehow ended up with my board facing backwards at the launching point, which was conveniently about fifteen feet in front of a bridge. And I had no idea what I was supposed to do other than try not to fall off the board.

Needless to say, I hit the bridge. I may have said a curse word or two. Not so zen.

But after I made it underneath the bridge without any major injuries and managed to find my balance (thanks to all those ballet classes), it was fun. And peaceful. And an excellent workout.

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No, this is not where we went paddleboarding – there are way too many obstructions here to manage that. But it’s a beautiful spot, isn’t it?

I wish I had a photo to show you, but the first rule of the paddleboard is don’t bring along anything that you don’t want falling in the water when you lose your balance. So no phone or camera went along for the ride.

But (self-gratifying digression here) I have a new, fancy phone now. A water-resistant phone. So there will be pictures next time, oh yes.

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Island Park, Idaho

IMG_4346 still smallerAnyway, on to the creme de la creme of tourist stops: Bear World.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Yellowstone Bear World is a wild animal park near Idaho Falls with about sixty grizzly and brown bears, plus bison, elk, deer, mountain goats, wolves, a moose and a petting zoo full of baby animals. Despite better judgment, they let you drive through the park and just warn you not to roll down the windows or get out of the car. So there are all these huge wild animals right on the other side of a half-inch of metal. Did I mention that we visited during feeding time?

Did I mention that the, ahem, brave people in the Ford Fusion in front of us were rolling down their windows and waving bags of potato chips to get the bears to come closer to their car? Public service announcement: I may not know much about the wilderness, but I know that it’s never a good idea to wave a bag of Lay’s Classic Potato Chips at a 300-pound black bear. Ever. Don’t do it, folks. Preserve your limbs and faces and stuff.

Anyway, back to the animals (none of which I waved potato chips at)…

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A necessary side note: I usually feel conflicted about zoos; although it’s a treat to be able to see such magnificent animals up close, I’m always sad that they’re in captivity. The great thing about Bear World is that the animals haven’t been removed from the wild just so the zoo could make a buck or we humans could eyeball them – they were either orphaned and unable to care for themselves, or were gotten rid of by mainstream zoos and had been in captivity too long to know how to survive on their own in the wild. While residing in captivity may not be the optimal life for wild animals, these ones needed some human intervention to stay healthy and alive. So I feel much better about visiting Bear World.

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A mother deer tending to her baby…

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… who then followed suit and tended to her sibling.

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Cheeky

I can’t forget to mention the skies in Idaho. It’s mountain weather there, which means storms roll in quickly, even in the summer. It makes for a surreal effect, an ominous gray mass sweeping away the blue sky and puffy white clouds in a matter of minutes.

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The trip to Idaho couldn’t have come at a better time. After my first few weeks in Salt Lake City, I was feeling the stress of the move: I was acutely aware of my unemployed, friendless, furniture-lacking, lost-all-the-time status. I needed a reminder of why I made the decision to upheave my life and put myself in this position. A week in the woods, on the river, seeing nature up close and personal, far away from cell phones and computers and traffic and the constant din of everyone else’s opinions – well, it was the highlighter across the line items of my biggest reasons for moving:

  • To Spend More Time Outside Than Behind a Desk
  • To Be Brave and Learn New Things
  • To See Much More of the World
  • To Put Myself in Situations That Stir My Soul, Inspire Me and Challenge Me in New Ways

So far, so good…

 

Wish You Were Here,
Lis

 

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Broken/Italian

I cried in Italian class last week. And I cried again this past Saturday.

It’s not my style to cry in class. I don’t remember ever doing so, not even under the fixed stares of displeased ballet teachers or while stammering my way through countless questions in math classes.

I am, with the exception of that wily beast called Math, an A-student. I am conscientious and confident in the classroom. I don’t cry.

 

Italian class should be a fun, happy thing for me. I started taking these language lessons a little over a year ago, partly as a commitment to do something for myself each week, and partly as a way to revive my dream.

I’ve been enchanted with Italy for most of my life, first lost between the pages of Roman mythology, holding my breath as Ceres cast an icy white winter upon the earth and Neptune brandished his trident – and later, adrift among slides of The Colosseum and the intricate columns at the Palazzo Vecchio and Tintoretto’s Paradise.

Soon after, handed to me by an Italian man with dark chocolate eyes, that first glass of sangiovese. And then chianti. And ripe, red pomodoro tomatoes and savory prosciuttos and – oh, the cheeses! – asiago and ricotta and gorgonzola and mozzarella…

And, finally, feasting on fairytale memoirs like Under the Tuscan Sun and La Bella Lingua, memoirs of women who had found their way there, who made it sound just as lovely as I imagined it to be.

I was sold on Italy. It was my own vision of utopia.

 

grazie

My Italian teacher makes these and they’re quite delicious.

You know where this is going, don’t you? I didn’t make it to Italy. I can tell you my excuses, I can say I was struggling just to make ends meet and that I was pouring myself into the mold of Perfect Daughter and Perfect-Girlfriend-Future-Wife and Perfect Any-Word-Here – which is all true, really. But it’s also true that I just sort of gave up for a while; I stopped believing I’d make it to Italy. It was easier to focus on what was in front of me, to be sensible, than to hold fast to a place that was so far away from the life I was living. And I’m sure that, and not my circumstances, had more to do with where I ended up – which wasn’t anywhere special, and definitely wasn’t Italy…

It took some serious jarring to get knocked out of my day-to-day daze, and when it happened, nothing seemed sensible anymore, not even the very sensible life I’d been living. I needed something to look forward to again, something to work toward. I just needed something.

So I started taking Italian language lessons. And, as we passed around sweet crostadas and practiced rolling our Rs, I also started to taste the dream again.

 

I applied for the scholarship on a whim;  I didn’t expect anything to come of it. But the ten minutes it took to fill out that paper and check the box changed my life.

I cried when I received the email telling me I was awarded the scholarship. Not the tears I shed in class these past two weeks when I was overwhelmed with anxiety, but the tears of being overwhelmed with sheer, naked gratitude. I cried off and on the following several days, unable to control the flood of emotion.

And now I feel like I’ve been crying ever since. I’m still overwhelmed, and sometimes it’s difficult to separate the anxiety from the gratitude, the disbelief from the excitement. I’m happy about this, aren’t I? Yes. I am. I am. This is the blessing of a lifetime.

And I’m also, being ever the conscientious student, feeling the pressure. This is my reprieve from that never-ending daze of hard work and sensible choices and letting go of the things I wanted to make it easier to accept the things in front of me. So the pressure really is on; I need to make this happen. I need to save the money for my flight and expenses, roll my Rs, practice my conjugations, memorize the seemingly nonsensical Italian prepositions, and go.

No, I will. I will do it all and I will go.

Right after I’m done crying, right? What the hell is the crying about?

 

Lis - Fondazione Italia

After graduating the first level of Italian

I wish I knew the answer for sure.

I do know that this trip to Italy feels like my last chance. My last chance to live bolder and braver, to finally put my own happiness at the top of the to-do list, to renew my faith in things like daydreams and true love and perfect summer days – things that are worth writing poems about, things that are so exquisitely scrumptious that they seem ridiculous. Which is fine, because I’m done being sensible.

I hope that six months from now I’ll be writing to you from a little school in Le Marche, sipping cappuccino and watching the locals stroll past.

I hope I’ll remember what it feels like to accomplish something extraordinary, the way I did when I glided so easily through the room in my pointe shoes.

I hope I soak up every moment of being in Italy, rising with the sun and spending my days sating every sense. I hope I remember that it doesn’t matter if I have to make my way through it on broken Italian – it will just matter that I made it.

And I really hope I don’t cry.

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Patchwork

I have scars on my left hand. They don’t fall into the category of disfiguring or get gasps of “oh goodness, what happened?!?” But they’re a medium purple against my pale white skin and I notice them several times a day. Each time I catch sight of my hand, they yank my attention away from whatever I’m doing, flood my field of vision like a light shined into my eyes.

The scars are from a bicycle accident I was in about two years ago. I have others, dotted along my other hand, and a thin white line underneath the ridge of my chin where it was stitched back together. They don’t bother me as much because they’re less noticeable – I don’t catch sight of them nearly as often.

But my left hand, it’s a constant source of sighing. Each time I look down, I’m reminded of feeling weak and hurt and exposed. I’m reminded of how the smooth white skin that was once there will never be that way again, that part of me is damaged forever now – that I am wearing the damage.

It’s the same with internal scars. They’re not as obvious, but occasionally a dim corner of my past is illuminated and I’m reminded of my weaknesses in prior relationships, the hurts I carried around, the excruciating imbalance of being vulnerable and exposed in front of someone who is cloaked in indifference or apathy or plain old selfishness.

The thing about scars is that they patch a spot that won’t fully heal. There is always a discoloration, a point of tenderness that will ache if touched just so, a snag in the fabric of that layer of protection – whether it be skin or soul.

Scars become part of our being. Some we wear as badges of honor, proof of our endurance and survival. Others we try to disguise with makeup or light humor. The worst kinds are the ones that get neatly packed away in a closet somewhere, gradually forgotten as other accumulations are stacked upon them until one day that tower of dusty past is bumped or rattled and it all shakes loose.

Most scars aren’t suited for proud display – fear and failure aren’t more attractive or appealing when magnified. And it seems awkward to try to disguise things that can never be fully hidden; they become dull and dingy, like a t-shirt that has been bleached and rebleached to hide the stains. But it’s hard to learn to live with them, to just accept that who we were, and who we loved or lost or let down, are built into the bricks of who we are now.

By the end of this life, we will be amalgamations of many different kinds of scars; we will be patchworks of our falterings – and the falterings of others. We can’t work with erasers, only with brooms or, perhaps, glue.

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“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”

- Catherine M. Wallace

 

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I should say

Before I forget to tell you later, before this begins to fade until we cannot quite remember it accurately, like a dream, I should say these words that bubble up to the surface and perch on the tip of my tongue…

Before one of us finally leaves for good, flies off dreamily or scorches a tongue on an argument or swiftly retreats into the shadows, I should say something about the here and now, about what is… (Soon it will only be what was.)

I should say that loving you has been the best part of my life. I should say that I carry a little piece of you with me every day. I should say that I still wrap my anxieties in thoughts of you, the way I used to fold myself into your arms and escape the weary days. I should say I learned that no one is really right, and that’s okay because the important thing is to be happy. And to love. And to beat on with the rhythms of our hearts and the currents of the rivers and the flutters of winged things.

My soul beats on. I carry on.

And we remain. We will outlive it all.

 

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morning poetry

I saw a couple embracing this morning. It wasn’t a hug; it was more of an intertwined tension, an electric current moving between their bodies. She fell into him like a rag doll and he pulled her up and in like he was trying to prop up her very soul, like he was trying to mend her whole being by wrapping himself around her. It was stunning. I felt like I was intruding by watching such an intimate display of emotion, but I couldn’t look away. There it was, a bit of poetry out among the traffic, men in suits bustling past them, the raging California sun beating hot on their skin. How simultaneously sad and lovely.

   

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Tell someone today.

 

You are the finest - Quote - F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Current

He asks me why I don’t look into his eyes when I answer him. Of course he noticed – I should have expected him to; he notices everything. He’s so attentive. Which is a very good thing except, of course, when I’m dodging…

He seems to have crafted this process where we are learning each other in layers, like the slow peeling back of an onion. We take turns asking the real questions, sometimes the hard questions. Never the cliche getting-to-know-you questions that so often fill the beginning. He asks slowly, carefully; I can see him rolling the words around in his head before he asks, pausing to make sure he phrases them in a way that will get him to the root of what he is trying to learn. And then he sits there, silent, sipping wine while I think about my reply, letting me soak up what he asked and dig around inside myself to find a teeny truth settled somewhere between my head and my heart. He listens patiently while I reminisce or wander into a daydream or, more often, stumble through my answer.

And he nudges a little. He likes it when I’m slightly off-kilter, when the question is just prying enough to make me wonder how he’ll take the response. Somehow he seems to know that I won’t lie or dilute, that it’s in my nature to say the truth, however clumsy or flat it may be. But there is always that moment of anticipation, holding my breath after I say the words, waiting to see if he likes my answer or if we will find the thing that will lead us each to begin to hedge about the other.

I never feel like he’s judgmental, like he’s testing. It’s more of an exploration, like a new lover running their fingers along every inch of skin. He is studious, like he’s memorizing the landscape of me – which paths to run along, which require a slower pace, which are still unexplored.

I like this. I like being slightly uncomfortable. I like being with someone who is willing to be a little bit naked, who prefers the company of someone who is trying to do the same, even if it means navigating the awkward or works-in-progress parts of ourselves. It reminds me of those countless ballet classes, all the talk of stretching just a little farther to find the right placement. The growth lies in the space just beyond where we are…

Is all this how he maintains control of the play, writes the next act? I don’t know.

This is what I do know: It’s refreshing to be with a man who gently takes charge, who leads me rather than asks me or, worse, pulls me back. And I don’t want to rush or resist or dodge; I’m not preoccupied with seeing what is around the corner or trying to write the ending… I like the idea of relaxing into him, settling into the current and simply going where he takes me.

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